Holocaust survivor shares life story
April 26, 2010
- Holocaust Days of Rememberance
- Tosia Schneider
- "Some Must Survive to Tell the World
FORT McPHERSON, Ga. - Sixty-eight years ago, Tosia Schneider made a promise to her mother that if she survived the Nazi persecution in Poland, she would tell the world the story of her people during the Holocaust.
On April 15, Schneider continued to fulfill this vow when she spoke at the annual Fort McPherson "Holocaust Days of Remembrance" observation at the Fort McPherson Post Chapel. Schneider, author of "Some Must Survive to Tell the World," served as guest speaker for the event, which serves as a day of remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust.
In addition to remembering the victims of the tragedy, the observation was designed to serve as a reminder about the dangers of unchecked hatred and the need to prevent genocide, said Kristen Gordon, sponsorship and marketing coordinator with the U.S. Army Garrison Directorate of Family Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
"Remembrance obligates us not only to memorialize those who were killed in the Holocaust, but also to reflect on what could have been done to save them," said Gordon, who served as the event's mistress of ceremonies. "Those who survived tell us that as many people faced their horrific deaths, their last words were 'Remember us. Tell our story.'"
Although a survivor of the tragedy, Schneider knew many who died, including all other 13 members of her immediate Family.
In her hour-long speech, she told her tale and the stories of those she knew, fulfilling her vow to her mother and countless others.
Schneider's story began in late summer of 1939, when Germany was preparing for war against Poland. At first, the war didn't seem like a bad thing to Schneider, who recalled her mother buying cookies and sweats on their trip back to Horodenka, Poland, once word that war was about to break out.
Tragically, her childhood innocence and optimism wouldn't last.
On Sept. 1, 1939, her village was bombed during the German advance, and she shared stories of being hurdled in a bunker to survive air raids.
Despite France and England declaring war on Germany, Poland fell to the Germans. On Sept. 17, Russia also invaded Poland.
"Poland was divided between Russians and Germans," Schneider said. "It was a respite from the war until the Germans declared war on Russia (in 1941)."
The declaration would bring hostilities back into her life, as well as place Schneider's Family under German control.
"Never in our wildest dreams could we imagine what would happen, the barbaric nature of a civilized country," Schneider said of what happened under Nazi occupation.
Jews in her village were relocated to ghettos, where suffering and persecution became a part of everyday life. Schneider said Jews were only allocated 60 calories a day, leading many to die of starvation and disease.
One such victim was Schneider's mother, who died at the age of 39. "You have to remember 1.5 million Jews were murdered before the (concentration) camps," Schneider said.
Although her mother was dead, her words to Schneider lived on.
Much of Schneider's survival was credited to the goodwill and intuition of others. In one example, her father hid her in the mill where he worked when there was a call for Jews to gather for an inoculation.
His feelings that something was wrong proved right when those gathered were lead away and shot.
Another time, during the winter of 1942, a man helped nurse an ill Schneider back to health, gave her eggs to eat and provided her with time to build back up her strength. Schneider said that such moments were a sign that even in darkness, there were glimmers of light.
"The man who gave me eggs was a light of hope that winter," Schneider said.
Schneider survived the winter and was relocated to a German labor camp where she worked in a field and made clothes in the home of the German camp commander.
By this time, she had long been separated from the rest of her Family, most of who had already been killed.
Others' fates, including that of her father, remain a mystery.
Schneider remained in the labor camp through March of 1944, when Soviet armed forces liberated her.
Following the liberation, however, the Germans tried to firebomb the barracks in an attempt to eliminate evidence of their atrocities.
Events like the Holocaust remembrance observation help keep that evidence in the light, said Col. Deborah B. Grays, USAG commander.
"It should be our duty to always remember and learn about the Holocaust so that we might be filled with a memory of revulsion over what took place and thus be inspired to commit ourselves to ensure that there is truly an end to such hatred and indifference," Grays said.
"Such atrocities can find their way back into future generations if we don't take a stand and remember the past."
Schneider said telling her story is her way to ensure such atrocities don't occur again, adding it also gave her a purpose while many of her fellow survivors struggled to find their place in the world.
"Murder shatters one's faith in humanity," she said. "For many survivors, it was a long, difficult road to find a place in world."
Besides giving Schneider a place in the world, her work is a type of resistance, Schneider said, adding "Resistance is more than violence."
By educating others about the dangers of bigotry, Schneider said she is helping prevent future occurrences from happening.
Such discussions, in addition to honoring those who lost their lives in the Holocaust, also serve to show others that they can make a difference.
"Hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism lead to the gates of Auschwitz," she said. "The gas chambers were not built by bricks, but words."